Receiving financial help changed Kyla Hanington’s life and the lives of her children when she was at university; now she wants to give back to families in similar situations.
February 9, 2021
There were many times when Kyla Hanington was close to giving up on her university education.
Every time this happened, the single mother of two received a timely scholarship, bursary or award
that served as encouragement, as “a promise that it was okay to keep going, that I was doing the right thing.”
These “gifts of hope” encouraged the Vancouver Island University (VIU) alum, who now lives
in Maryland, to start her own award for single mothers at her alma mater.
“Scholarships change lives. My life changed and the lives and the trajectories of both my children changed because of my VIU degree,” she says. “This
is my opportunity to provide some hope and encouragement to another family.”
Hanington’s post-secondary journey began with a desire to make a better life for her family. In 2005, she moved to the Island from Maryland
with her two young kids, $300 cash and all of her possessions in a green suitcase after her relationship ended with her children’s father.
Suffering loss and a high degree of anxiety over the uncertainty of her situation,
Hanington dealt with the stress by drinking too much. Over time, she stopped drinking and found a steady, albeit low-paying job, but was laid off when the company closed during the 2008 recession. Then she turned her mind to education.
fear of failure and sense of being less capable than others almost stopped me from applying, but I realized I owed my children more than a hand-to-mouth existence,” she says.
Hanington started her Bachelor of Arts degree
at age 35, when her children were five and nine.
“We were quite poor at the time – eventually foreclosed on, in fact – and it was a struggle in many ways,” she recalls. “I was so close to quitting time
and time again because of the immense financial pressure. I wondered at times if it was selfish to continue – not everyone does, often people go get low-paying jobs that don’t require university education because we need to support our families
– and so was I doing the wrong thing by working so hard in pursuit of a degree?”
Thankfully, every time she had these thoughts, Hanington would receive a call from VIU’s
Financial Aid & Awards department letting her know that she earned a scholarship or award that would keep her going.
“They were reassurances that I was doing the right thing, like stepping-stones to work my
way across,” she recalls. “Maybe I should quit, but not this semester.”
Hanington graduated in 2012 and immediately got a job with the provincial government’s Family
Justice Services Division as an interviewer with the Justice Access Centre. She then took a position in Terrace as a family justice counsellor, and became a certified family mediator through that position, doing additional training at the Justice Institute
of British Columbia.
After reconnecting with and then marrying an old friend from Maryland, Hanington moved back to the United States in 2015 to join her husband, where she now works as the outreach coordinator and public information
officer at Prince George County’s Human Relations Commission. In this position she creates and delivers anti-hate, anti-bias programming and creates community conversations that build increased understanding among diverse peoples.
also hasn’t stopped furthering her education. Hanington finished a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Mississippi University for Women in 2020 and is working on her Master of Arts in Human Rights through the University of London (UK).
She decided now was a good time to give back to VIU – the school that did so much for her when she was at her lowest point – by starting the Kyla Hanington Award for Single Mothers. The annual award gives out one $1,000 tuition
credit to a female student who is single parenting – like Hanington was doing when she attended VIU. She wants others to have the same transformational experience she had – and the ripple effects of that education.
think the most significant impact is looking at where my kids are at now,” says Hanington. “They saw their mom really struggle, they came to class with me and when I feared I couldn’t keep going, they sang me encouraging songs. Now my oldest
is about to graduate Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Film from Hollins University in Virginia, and my youngest is about to graduate from high school and has been accepted into all six of the universities she applied to. My story isn’t so much about me,
it’s about how me going back to school as a mature student set a course for my children, too. We all want to launch our children from the best-possible platform, and here is where VIU brought my family.”
If you wish
to support Hanington’s award for single mothers, visit giving.viu.ca, select “other” in the drop-down section and enter “Kyla Hanington Award” in the text box. Anyone interested in learning
more about supporting students through scholarships, awards, or bursaries can visit the VIU Donors homepage or call VIU’s Annual Giving Manager, Dave Forrester, at 250.618.1319.